How to Capture Action Shots Outdoors

I was recently at the park taking pictures of my oldest son on the swings. As I took the pictures, I noticed another person doing the same with members of his family next to me. I stood and watched for a moment as he became disappointed when his pictures came out blurry, and he eventually gave up.

Taking pictures of kids on the swings requires a bit more effort than simply taking pictures of a stationary individual. As I watched the man, I thought about the many settings on his camera he could change to take the picture he was hoping for. I will talk about those settings in this post.

Setting the Scene

Before I go into detail about taking action shots, let me set the scene that I had described above. As mentioned it was outdoors and it was a cloudy day. Although not raining, the clouds did provid a darker than usualy setting at times.

It was midday, around 1 o’clock, so the sun was high in the sky (behind the clouds). I do like taking pictures on a cloudy day because the light from the sun is not as bright, which doesn’t create any harsh shadows. Had it been sunny, however, it would have been much easier to take action shots as a faster shutter speed would have been used by the automatic setting on the camera. This was not the case on this day.

The Camera Settings

The biggest setting that you need to pay attention to when taking pictures of a moving subject is the shutter speed. Depending on the speed of the subject, you would need a shutter speed of at least 1/250 of a second. For many cameras on a cloudy day, it could be hard to achieve this shutter speed by default on the automatic settings. The following points list some setting changes you can make in your camera to increase the shutter speed:

  1. Open up the aperture. Many digital cameras allow you to set the aperture before taking a picture. If this is the case with your camera, open it up. For those that don’t know, the aperture is expressed as a decimal number, such as 2.7, 8.0, etc. on you camera. By decreasing the number, you are actually making the aperture larger, meaning you are letting in more light. This will allow you to increase your shutter speed.
  2. Don’t zoom in on your subject, walk closer instead. When you use the zoom on your camera, the aperture will actually close down, which is the opposite of what you want to do. Instead, zoom all the way out and walk closer to your subject to allow you to use the largest possible aperture on your camera.
  3. Increase the ISO. All digital cameras have several ISO numbers that you can choose. The larger the number, the more sensitive to light your camera becomes. This allows you to take pictures in a darker setting without using the flash. Keep in mind that the larger the ISO value the more noise you will get in your pictures. For my camera I notice ISO 400 produces too much noise, but ISO 200 provides a nice balance.
  4. Avoid the flash. This is more for point-and-shoot cameras that can only use the built-in flash. On my camera, when I use the built in flash, then camera always uses a 1/60 of a second shutter speed, which is way to slow to capture the action. Take pictures with your flash on and look at the shutter speed. If it is too slow, don’t use the flash for action shots.
  5. Increase the shutter speed. If you have changed the settings mentioned above, then you should be able to increase the shutter speed. I recommend you set your camera on aperture-priority mode (if your camera includes that settings), and then let the camera choose the shutter speed.

The above settings can be changed in most digital cameras to help you take action shots outdoors. Many of the settings can also be used to take pictures indoors without a flash.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t mention these tips to the man having trouble taking the photos.

Related Posts

Tips on Taking Photographs with a Digital Camera
Taking Pictures Indoors Without a Flash
Understanding Digital Camera Features
Understanding White Balance

2 Responses to “How to Capture Action Shots Outdoors”

  1. Cromely says:

    Depending on the camera, it might also help to adjust the exposure compensation.

    When opening the aperture all the way, it may help to consider the direction of the action. If the photography is standing off to the side (so the path of the swing runs from left to right) that should be no problem. If you the photographer is facing the swing, the distance between them and the subject will be constantly changing. That may cause additional trouble with depth of field.

    Depending on the camera, turning on the bracketing feature may address a wide array of exposure sins.

  2. My digital camera has a “best shot” menu where I can choose according to the type of picture I’m taking so I assume automatically makes the necessary adjustments which is very nice of people like me who don’t know that much about it but just like taking pictures quickly and easily!

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